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June 30, 2015 Practice Points

After Winning Suit, Beastie Boys Unable to Recover Most of Their Attorney Fees

You gotta fight for your right to hire expensive lawyers.

By David Dobin

In Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy Co., No. 12 Civ. 6065 (PAE), 2015 WL 3823924 (S.D.N.Y. June 15, 2015), the court granted in part and denied in part the Beastie Boys’ motion for an award of attorney fees after a jury awarded the Beastie Boys over $1.5 million for Monster’s willful infringement of the Beastie Boys’ copyrights under the Copyright Act and intentional deception in violation of the Lanham Act. The case arose out of Monster’s use of Beastie Boys songs in an online marketing video.

The court held that an award of fees under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 505, was supported by “the interests of compensation and deterrence; by the interest in placing some of the burden of paying legal fees on the willful infringer; and, to the extent that Monster unjustifiably contested its liability and wrongly attempted to shift legal responsibility onto [a third-party], by the interest in making a party bear the expenses generated by its unreasonable litigation tactics.”

However, the court refused to award attorney fees under the Lanham Act, which limits fee awards to “exceptional cases.” Id. at *10 (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a)). The court reasoned: “Unlike the Copyright Act claims, as to which Monster's pretrial denial of liability was unreasonable, the Court does not perceive any unreasonableness to Monster's arguments or litigation positions as to the Lanham Act claim of false endorsement. Monster made responsible arguments opposing that claim, and the jury's verdict for the Beastie Boys, in the Court's view, was no foregone conclusion.”

Finally, the court limited the amount of attorney fees awarded to the Beastie Boys. While the Beastie Boys sought an award of about $2.4 million, the court awarded only $667,849.14. While the court noted the “impressive lawyering” on the part of Beastie Boys’ attorneys and that the Beastie Boys had every right to hire the attorneys of their choice, the court also pointed out that “the Beastie Boys opted to pay for, and received, the Cadillac Escalade, not the Honda Civic.”

Keywords: litigation, young lawyers, copyright, litigation, attorney fees

— David Dobin, Cohen and Wolf, P.C., Bridgeport, CT

Copyright © 2015, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).